Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Prepare Now For the Temple

I gave Amy a copy of Prepare Now for the Temple by Brittany Mangus shortly before we were married. This book is only 69 pages long, so I thought I would read it to squeeze in one more book this year.

I would highly recommend this book for any young woman preparing to enter the temple. Why just young women? Because that is who this book is written for. Mangus goes through the basics of what to expect, of what to do to prepare, and also clears up some misconceptions and myths regarding the temple ceremonies.

What I really like is that she also gives advice to women going through for the first time about how to focus on the importance of the covenants they make, and how they should let this be the main reason of their temple experience. Nothing else should be done that minimizes the sacredness of this event. As I read this book, I thought that it would be a good reminder to everybody who has been through the temple.

The book is short and can easily be read in an hour or two. This is such a short amount of time required for a book that will help so much as you prepare for such an important part of your life.

Building Faith in Christ with the Book of Mormon

Years ago I had the opportunity to meet Reid E. Bankhead at a rest home. He presented me with a signed copy of Building Faith in Christ with the Book of Mormon, which he co-wrote with Glenn L. Pearson. This book is divided into multiple topics with a brief explanation of the topic, followed by a list of passages from the scriptures that teach about the topic, and then concluded with study questions for the reader.

The authors clearly wanted this book to get into as many hands as possible. They even requested the retail value to be no more than $5.00. Probably because of this, their book was not edited  very carefully. Not all the scripture passages matched the topic they were assigned to. In fact, one entire topic had no supporting scriptures, they were all references for a different topic. At other times, there would be a scripture reference that did not exist. But despite these occasional mistakes, the book is still worth using.

In order to ensure that I was getting the best use out of this book, I read every single scripture reference associated with each topic. Sometimes this got very repetitive (for example, I think I read all of Alma 30 at least five times!) However, I was very impressed with the work the authors must have done to compile a study guide such as this. In the future, when I need to find some good scriptures about a certain topic, I will certainly turn to this book for help.

One of the neatest features about this book is that, despite its title, it does not stay solely in the Book of Mormon. It gives supporting scriptures from all of the standard works, showing how the Lord's principles are eternal and found in all His words. Using this resource helps the reader become more familiar with Gospel topics, while at the same time helping the Stick of Judah and the Stick of Joseph become one in his hand.

Monday, December 30, 2013

In Old Nauvoo

I read selections from In Old Nauvoo by George W. Givens when I took a Pioneer Life class during my experience living in Nauvoo during the winter semester of 2003. As part of my goal to read every book on my shelf, I decided to read this book again from cover to cover. Now, before I begin to say too much, let me just say that if history dulls you, you will probably hate this book. Its purpose is to recreate what everyday life was like for the saints living in Nauvoo from 1839-1846. That being said, I thoroughly enjoy history, I love Nauvoo, and I love the 19th century. In other words, I loved this book!

Having lived in Nauvoo for about four months, it was fun to read about places I have actually been to. One of these is Scovil’s Bakery and Confectionary Shop. The book talks about them advertising $25 wedding cakes. Back in that time period, an average day’s wages was only $1.00. Nobody could afford a $25 cake! But advertising that they could make it certainly made people talk. I remember hearing the same story while I was in Nauvoo.

One segment of this book talked about 19thcentury customs dealing with women and church. In comparison with other churches of the day, the LDS church was actually very liberal in what it allowed women to do. Although it was unheard of in other churches, they were actually allowed to speak in church meetings (provided their talks were not too long). This made me laugh. It might sound restrictive to us, but in those days, there was no set time for meetings. Speakers gave a discourse for as long as they wanted to. I’m sure most people have attended a testimony meeting where one person (usually a woman) takes up nearly the entire meeting. That is why I found it amusing that a time limit was given to women speakers.

The book used a lot of quotations from non-Mormon visitors to Nauvoo. Their insights were especially helpful in putting together the history of the city. I was also surprised to learn that John Greenleaf Whittier visited the city once and had some high praise for the beauty of the temple being built.

I could go on and on about the customs as far as occupations, construction, courting and marriage, and more, but I will leave that for the book to explain. I will end this short review with a humorous incident told in the book about Joseph Smith. Let me preface this by saying that I quite enjoy the prophet’s humor. When the saints arrived in Nauvoo, they were destitute and in extreme poverty. They especially did not have a lot to eat. It is recorded that Joseph Smith once said the following prayer at the table: “Lord, we thank thee for this johnnycake, and ask thee to send us something better. Amen.”

The glory of Nauvoo lasted for less than a decade, but the legacy of its inhabitants lives on. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and learning more about that time period.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas with the Prophets

Every year I tell myself I am going to read Christmas with the Prophets by Laura F. Willes, but I never seem to get past Brigham Young. This year I really dedicated myself and I was able to finish the book in just a couple days. I actually really loved the stories! Each chapter is about a different prophet and is broken up into about five different stories. This makes it easy to break up the reading, but don't let that convenience keep you from getting through the entire book. In years past I tried reading just one story a day, and that never seemed to work.

There are three stories that I particularly enjoyed that I want to share on this post. The first comes from Joseph F. Smith. When he was a young father, his family was really struggling to make ends meet. They had enough money for food, but not enough for any presents or treats of any kind. The day before Christmas, he walked past all the shop windows and looked at the many wonderful things he couldn't afford, and then began to weep because he couldn't provide his family with a nice Christmas. He eventually went home and played with his children, that being the only present he could give them--his love and time.

Heber J. Grant loved to give out books and if you were to meet with him, there was a good chance that you would be leaving with a book in your hand. Of course, this also meant he loved to give books for Christmas. He once recorded in his journal, "Although my heart, alas, is bigger than my pocketbook, I pray it will stay that way." I loved this quote. I think that is a good way to live life.

The last story I want to share is from George Albert Smith. This cracked me up. At Christmas, when the grandchildren were spending the holiday with him, he would put out extra large stockings. One time he even cut out the toe and had the sock empty right into a bucket. The next morning the children's stocking would be full of goodies, while his stockings would be full of onions or something of that nature. The children would be so disappointed for him, but he would always use this opportunity to teach about the importance of not being greedy.

The book is done on really nice, colored pages and is easily one of the nicest-looking books in my Christmas library. I highly recommend this book for a personal library, but also as a gift.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Restored Gospel According to C. S. Lewis

I received a copy of The Restored Gospel According to C. S. Lewis by Nathan Jensen years ago, but I had only read excerpts up to this point. Finally I decided to read the entire book, and I'm glad I did. I have always greatly respected C. S. Lewis' writings, and this book just make me appreciate him even more. In this book, Jensen compares various statements from C. S. Lewis with general authorities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is remarkable how many of these coincide perfectly.

My only complaint with this book is that some of the Lewis quotes get repetitive. Each chapter is divided into different subjects, and often the author uses the same quote repeatedly because it fits each new subject matter. Doing so reduces the novelty of the quote and softens its impact. That being said, there were several quotes from this book that I really enjoyed. These are a few:

C. S. Lewis talks about God taking great pride in His creations, just as an artist takes great pride in his paintings. Unlike an artist's painting, however, we are sentient creatures and whenever the Grand Artist makes changes or enhances His creations (us) we complain and moan because we think we are fine as we are. We cannot yet see the grand masterpiece our Master has in mind for us to become.

I also loved C. S. Lewis' description of angels and devils. He said that they are as similar as good and bad people, meaning that they are the same kind of beings. Devils are not creatures with pointed tails and horns, nor are angels creatures with bird wings. In fact, Lewis' entire conception of Hell and the devil is extraordinary and very accurate compared to what I believe.

Another quote I want to touch on regarding this subject is actually by Brigham Young. He taught that music is a language from heaven and is a great gift to mankind. He followed that up by saying there is no music in Hell. I had never thought about this before, but I found that very interesting.

Last of all, I loved what Lewis had to say about religion and sacrifice. He was very against "soft religions" that did not take the Bible at face value and tried to diminish was Christianity is meant to be. He especially deplores those who twist the Bible to mean things it did not say. He emphatically declared that either Jesus is the Son of God and everything He said or did is true, or else He was an immoral liar or a madman. You cannot believe in Him without believing EVERYTHING.

These quotes and so many more reinforced my admiration for the great man that was C. S. Lewis.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Jerusalem: The Eternal City

If you are looking for a great book to understand Jerusalem's history, then I highly recommend Jerusalem: The Eternal City by David B. Galbraith, D. Kelly Ogden, and Andrew C. Skinner. This book begins its history with the city of Salem, under the rule of Melchizedek and goes until the time of the book's publication. This was an eye-opener for me. This is one complicated city!

Although this is not light reading, I am impressed with the quality of this book. The authors do a great job of helping the reader understanding the context of its history, even so far as to explain the part of Jerusalem's history that Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark is based on.

The part of the book that I perhaps enjoyed the most was where it discussed the history of the city after the crucifixion of the Savior. In A.D. 70, the city and temple were destroyed. This had been prophesied by Jesus years earlier. What is neat is that the authors show how every point of this prophecy was fulfilled, including the false prophets and false messiahs that rose up during this time period. These false leaders were largely responsible for a lot of the devastation.

In connection with this, I was most impressed with the profound sorrow of the Jews when the temple was destroyed. To them, it was symbolic of no longer having God in their midst (little did they realize they crucified their God over thirty years earlier). Records report of Jews weeping for days when they saw the temple was destroyed, and even today they have symbolic reminders that their lives are not complete without a temple. For example, for most of my life I have known that at Jewish weddings the groom breaks a glass under his foot, but not until I read this book did I understand that it was a reminder of the loss of the temple. Some women leave off a piece of jewelry, others leave a portion of their buildings unpainted. All of these are to remind them that until they once again have a temple, they can never be complete. What a profound thought, and one that I think is easily applied to Latter-day Saints.

Furthermore, this book goes into great depth about Islam, giving it an equal treatment with the Jews. The more I read about the two religions and the holy regard they both have towards Jerusalem, the more I realized just how complicated this city is. Jerusalem is a city with a bloody history, with blood being shed by Jews, Muslims, and Christians. Everybody is at least somewhat in the wrong. The authors conclude that only the coming of Messiah can finally set things right.

For anybody interested in learning more about Jerusalem, its history and destiny, I highly recommend this book. Don't expect a light reading, but you bring your reading plow, you're going to dig up a lot of really great information.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

BYU Speeches: Adversity

My wife got a copy of this collection of BYU Speeches revolving around the theme of adversity. It is also subtitled "Finals Survival Kit Speeches." It contains a collection from Jeffrey R. Holland, James E. Faust, Spencer W. Kimball, and Vaughn J. Featherstone. Each talk was excellent and had suggestions and insights that I found very helpful when it comes to dealing with adversity in my own life.

Jeffrey R. Holland actually has two talks used in this book, both titles of which have since been used in books he has written: However Long and Hard the Road and For Times of Trouble. I really love Elder Holland, and it was great to read these talks, and especially to hear him give encouragement. In fact, this whole book is one worth reading again and again.

Overall, I learned a very important thing from this book. Life is full of trials. We need to expect them and work with them, not wait to live until the trials have passed. It is enduring through the trials and living faithfully through the trials that produce the outcome the trials were meant to bring about in the first place. A common characteristic among all these speakers was humor. Good, appropriate humor helps us endure trials faithfully and come out on top.

The other lesson I learned is to encourage others who may be going through trials right now as well. Giving comfort and encouragement to others will not only bless their lives, but it will bless ours also. Joining together, we can make it through anything. But most important of all, we must unite ourselves with our Savior Jesus Christ. It is He who overcame all things. It is He who is our defender and shield. It is He who is our Comforter and Friend. It is He who can mold us into who we are destined to become.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Guardians of the Finisher's Fury

Frank L. Cole, who is the author of The Guardians of the Finisher's Fury also happens to be my manager. I am fortunate enough to also be able to read his latest works in advance. I got to read an advance copy of this book at the end of 2012. In fact, I stayed up reading this through the night on New Year's. This last week I had the opportunity to read the latest book that Frank completed. However, since it is still in its earliest editing stages, I thought it would be unfair to review that book now. Instead, I will review The Guardians of the Finisher's Fury since it has finally been officially released.

The fact that I stayed up late into the night to finish this book should say something about how much I enjoyed this book. Frank's books have a tendency to grab the reader and pull them into the story. Not only is the plot gripping and intense, but the author's classic humor shines through the pages as well.

The Guardians trilogy focuses on two main characters named Amber and Trendon. amber has a special bond with her former archeology teacher named Dorothy and together, the three of them have been searching for ancient artifacts with special powers. They are also racing against a group of people who call themselves Architects. This group has a fascinating history as well that I will not spoil here.

In the first book, Amber and Trendon together discover the Tebah stick. Through this stick, Amber has the gift to communicate with animals that have not been seen since the days of Noah's Ark. Not only can she communicate with these creatures, but she can also order them with her very thoughts. The second artifact was Elijah's Fire, an axe with the ability to call fire down from heaven.

Now, in this third and final book, they are looking for the most powerful and dangerous artifact of all: The Finisher's Fury. Not only is this artifact extremely dangerous, but if it should ever be combined with the other two, it could mean the destruction of the world if it got into the wrong hands. The question is, can anybody really handle having power like that? This dangerous artifact has the potential to turn friends into foes. Can Amber and Trendon survive this challenge? Discovering and protecting this artifact is destined to be their most difficult challenge ever, and they will never be the same!

I highly recommend this book, and not just because the author is my boss. If you like Indiana Jones-style stories, you will love this. It is packed with action, humor, intrigue, and suspense. If you like that kind of book, make sure you put this trilogy on your list!

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Continuous Atonement

Back in 2010 I had read all but one chapter of The Continuous Atonement by Brad Wilcox. When I saw it was the next book on my shelf, I decided to re-read the entire book and not just finish the last chapter. I'm so glad I did! I had forgotten what an incredible book this is!

The basic idea of Wilcox's book is that the atonement of Jesus Christ does not have a limit to it, following the scripture that says, "And as often as my people repent I will forgive them." But there is more to it than that. Sometimes we might think that the Savior's grace won't take effect until we have done everything in our power. This is a false concept. The Savior's grace actually helps us do everything in our power, and then enables us to do even more.

The beauty of the atonement is that it enables us to become better people. It doesn't just restore us to the way we were before, but it enhances us. This book actually shed some light on a concern I've had before. Often, especially when I am very tired, I have the crazy thought that I don't want to live forever. It sounds exhausting to me! Sure, a reunion in Heaven sounds grand, but after that reunion is over, I've struggled with the idea of living forever. I've actually wished there could be an end.

Wilcox discusses how immortality is only a partial gift. The fulness of the gift is an eternal life of progression. In the author's words, "There will always be something more to look forward to and achieve." The quality of life that Christ's atonement makes possible and the many wonderful opportunities before us make eternity a wonderful gift and blessing!

The author also makes a point that hit close to home. He was talking about a time in his life where he felt he was on a roller coaster with ups and downs all day long. I can certainly relate to that! One night, after discussing the way he felt to his wife and expressing a wish that life would be smooth, his wife (who was a nurse) said, "when a heart monitor is showing ups and downs it's a good thing. When it's flat, that's bad. Going up and down means you're still alive." I'm glad I'm still alive!

For anyone seeking to understand the atonement better, and especially for those seeking to understand how it applies to them, I highly recommend this book!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

History of the Church Vol. 7

With the reading of History of the Church Vol. 7, I have concluded the documentary History of the Church series. The way this book was put together made parts of it repetitive, although the information was very interesting. My favorite part was where I got to read excerpts from Brigham Young's journal.

The book begins with Governor Thomas Ford's history of the Mormons in Illinois. Reading his own perspective earned the governor absolutely no love from me. At one point he mentioned that he would probably be remembered as a Herod or a Pilate among the Mormons. He was right. He was a dishonest and despicable man.

This volume of the Church's history contains information about the leadership of the Church being assumed by the 12 Apostles. Before reading it, I never knew just how far off the deep end Sidney Rigdon had gone. The claims he was making and the movements he was pursuing were in direct contrast to established revelations. It would make sense that he would win over a few followers because of his long involvement with Joseph Smith, but after reading his ideas and claims it was even clear for me to see he was not an inspired leader chosen of the Lord to lead the Church.

On the same note, it was sad to read about many in the Church who broke themselves off because they wanted power and authority. Even some members of the Twelve (the prophet's brother William included) turned against their brethren to try to start their own movements. What a blessing that so many relied on testimony and not on flattery. An interesting thing I read, however, on page 367 is a discourse Brigham Young gave on how to correct those who need correcting. He emphasized the need to have charity and the Spirit when doing any correcting because if it is done in an inappropriate way, it could discourage, embarrass, and destroy the person instead of leading them to true repentance. I found that teaching very profound.

I got a kick out of a list of nicknames for the Twelve Apostles that were published in a newspaper:
Brigham Young, The Lion of the Lord
Heber C. Kimball, The Herald of Grace
Parley P. Pratt, The Archer of Paradise
Orson Hyde, The Olive Branch of Israel
Willard Richards, The Keeper of the Rolls
John Taylor, The Champion of Right
and so forth.

This volume also focused heavily on the building and completion of the Nauvoo Temple. I was surprised to read that they held dances inside the temple at one point, until Brigham Young put an end to it because he thought it detracted from the holy nature of the place and the work therein. It was neat to read how important the temple was to the early saints and how much they desired the blessings of it. Orson Pratt gives a wonderful discourse in this volume in which he laments those who sacrifice eternal kingdoms and glory to a moment's gratification.

Unfortunately, this volume ends rather abruptly. I have decided that I need to invest in The Comprehensive History of the Church in order to learn more. But I highly recommend this entire series to anyone wanting to learn more about the church's history and early teachings. I have felt the Spirit many times during the reading and I have loved coming to know Joseph Smith better. I have also felt pangs of sorrow as some heroes I read about turned away from the Church. In contrast, I have been elated when I have read about some of those who turned away and then repented. What a remarkable book series to read!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Why Bad Things Happen to Good People

I can't say I enjoyed Why Bad Things Happen to Good People by Brent L. Top as much as I did his last book. I think part of my problem was with the title. This book was formerly titled Strength to Endure, which I think is a much more appropriate title for this book. The answer to the title's question can pretty much be summed up in two words: That's life. The focus of the majority of the book seemed to be focused on the original title, giving tips and encouragement to faithfully endure trials and struggles.

The author begins by talking about the reasons why bad things happen. Perhaps most of the time it is because of agency, whether ours or that of another person. Other times it is the effects of a natural fallen world. And then, occasionally, it could also be the direct intervention of God. But after discussing the various reasons why bad things happen, Top sums it up by saying it doesn't really matter what brought it about; when we chose to come to earth, we chose to experience trials and adversity to prove us and help us grow. No matter what the cause, adversity is what we signed up for. Our focus should be on how to endure it well.

I did like a few of the author's analogies. He compares trials to a school bell. A school bell alerts students that it is time for class to begin, thereby giving a signal for the learning to start. However, the bell does not do any teaching itself. Our trials are like this. Adversity cues us that it is time to learn something. But just like lazy students at school, we can choose to ignore these lessons despite the trials that come upon us. We see the same thing in the Book of Mormon. Because of the wars, some Nephites were hardened, while others were softened.

The other example I liked was when the author was talking about the importance of pursuing faithful service in the Kingdom of God. When it is cold and fierce weather, the best thing to do is keep moving. Otherwise you will end up with frostbite. When we experience fierce trials in life, we might be persuaded to think we deserve a break and rest from church service. But doing this can lead to frostbite of the soul. Our testimonies may waver until we fall into complete inactivity. When the going gets tough, the tough really need to get going!

There were a lot of good things I gleaned from this book. I would change the title for sure. One chapter in the book dedicated to that topic is sufficient. Good people cannot be immune to adversity or else they will never become the great people they are destined to be.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

As One Crying from the Dust

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed As One Crying from the Dust by Brent L. Top. I had read a book by the same author a while ago called When You Can't Do it Alone and really enjoyed that, but I strongly connected with my most recent read. It is unfortunate that it is now out of print.

This book is a collection of insights from the author of how the Book of Mormon has helped him understand and apply certain concepts. Repeatedly throughout the book, Top insists that it is impossible to "outgrow" the Book of Mormon. This really hit me hard because I have read The Book of Mormon so many times that if you name a random chapter, I can probably tell you exactly what happens in that chapter. It was neat for me to read how the author digs deeper to have a new experience every time.

To back up his insights and thoughts, the author repeatedly uses quotes from general authorities. Perhaps my favorite quote comes from Brigham Young. Top is discussing the topic of prayer, and at one point talks about praying with real intent and not hearkening to the evil spirit that teaches a man not to pray (2 Nephi 32:8). He quotes from Brigham Young who said, "If the Devil says you cannot pray, tell him it is none of his business." I really liked that!

The author also shares a beautiful story to illustrate the principle of charity. He quotes a story from the life of Bruce R. McConkie's grandmother when she was serving as a Relief Society president. She was taking care of a neighbor's family, including their young baby. She was exhausted, but repeatedly offered the assistance this family needed. One day, after arriving home, this good woman fell asleep and dreamed that she was privileged to hold the Christ child and take care of Him. As she awoke she heard the Savior's words, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." That story touched my heart.

This book should never replace a personal study of the scriptures, but for me, it awoke the desire to dig deeper and gain a stronger love for them. Towards the end of the book the author recounts the story of Jacob Hamblin, who asked for a copy of the "Mormon Bible" and received the Old and New Testament. The Holy Bible is our Bible, and we love it and treasure it. The Book of Mormon is an additional volume of scripture that points the way to Christ and confirms the truths of the Bible. How grateful I am for both books!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Prophecy and Modern Times

After reading an 800+ page book by the same author, reading Prophecy and Modern Times by W. Cleon Skousen was a welcome read (it was only 150 small pages). A portion of his book The Fourth Thousand Years was dedicated to this same topic, so much of the material I had already read.

Rather than listing prophecies in his book, Skousen has attempted to write out the future of the earth as if he were writing its history. He begins by talking about prophecy and what we can learn about it from the scriptures where prophecy has been fulfilled. From these instances we can learn that rarely does the Lord state exactly when a prophecy will come to pass, but when it does, it is fulfilled in complete detail according to the Lord's word.

After this little lesson, the author begins talking about the future destiny of America and the establishment of the New Jerusalem. Typical of Skousen, he reads very closely into the scriptures to help determine the timetable of the events. He talks about the warning to the gentiles who reject the Gospel, how they will be scourged if they do not repent, and how room will be prepared for the lost ten tribes.

From there, the author goes on to talk about the other nations of the world, focusing especially on Jerusalem and the Jews in that area. After relating the events that lead up to the Second Coming, Skousen does something unique that I found quite interesting. He gives the Second Coming from the perspective of three groups: those in Zion, the Jews in Jerusalem, and the forces of the world combined against the Jews. This painted a neat picture in my mind.

The book concludes with a picture of the Millennium and then ends. I was a little disappointed that the author did not go into any detail about events following the Millennium, such as the Battle of the Great God, after which the final judgement occurs and Satan and his hosts are cast off forever. But overall the book was good. I would not suggest it as a stand-alone book in studying the signs of the times, but I do think it is a good springboard for a student of scripture.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

History of the Church Vol. 6

This volume in the History of the Church covers the shortest amount of time of any volume in the entire history, but it is still packed full of information. I dreaded the end of this book, for I knew it would culminate with the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum. But more on that in a minute.

Among many of Joseph's teachings, he taught the elders not to "whip the sects", or in other words, persecute and prove wrong other religions. Joseph continues his counsel to invite all men to bring the good they have so that they can have more added thereto.

There is a small account I found interesting. Joseph discovered some men preaching and practicing plural marriage. Joseph put a stop to it and said he was the only one who held the keys pertaining to this practice and nobody was to do it without divine sanction.

As I have read books about the spirit world and life after death, many people have quoted Joseph Smith. I discovered his entire discourse in this volume on pages 50-52. Joseph encourages the saints to learn all they can on the subject, and then expounds the doctrine that has been revealed.

This book also tells of Joseph Smith's bid as a candidate for President of the United States. Based on some comments he made, he actually didn't want this office, but if nobody else was going to honorably serve the country without regard to any party or belief, then Joseph felt it was his duty to do so. He also gives an excellent discourse on the powers and policy of government, which I thought was right on the mark.

I also enjoyed an excellent sermon by him detailing the differences in the missions of Elias and Elijah. It was very interesting to read about how these offices have been used, and how they are being used today. This sermon is essential reading to understand this topic.

This volume also contains the famous sermon, the King Follet's discourse. I have read this before and it is cited a lot, but now I got to read it from its original source. Here, again, Joseph teaches and expounds on some wonderful doctrines. The book contains so many of Joseph Smith's sermons that I really enjoyed. Another neat doctrine he taught is that the land of Zion consists of all of North and South America.

Sadly, the book eventually ended with the martyrdom. Through this volume we read of traitors, apostates, and hypocrites who told the blackest lies and falsehoods. Joseph Smith and the saints tried to be as transparent as possible with the government of Illinois in all their proceedings. Joseph told the governor several times that if the supreme court of the state found him guilty in anything, then he was willing to abide by the law and pay any damages.

But the governor never gave the prophet the opportunity to be legally tried by the supreme court. The governor, instead, broke his promises to the prophet again and again. He accused Joseph of acting beyond his office as mayor, only to turn around and act beyond his office of governor. There seems to be a strong hint that Governor Ford wanted Joseph dead almost as much as the mob did. No wonder that Gordon B. Hinckley called Governor Ford a wicked man.

However, Joseph knew his lot. Hyrum perhaps didn't, though Joseph tried to warn him. In fact, Hyrum had been ordained by Joseph to take the lead of the Church, but Hyrum died before Joseph did. The shocking brutality of the Carthage massacre happened so quickly. My eyes were wet as I pictured being in the jail with Willard Richards and witnessing the horrific events. But in the words of W. W. Phelps, "death cannot conquer the hero again." Joseph Smith left a legacy which cannot be erased by bullets, and at the conclusion of reading about his life, I am led to exclaim that he is indeed a prophet and will be recognized as such by all men one day. I am thankful for him, his dedication and humility.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Fourth Thousand Years

After almost an entire month, I finally finished The Fourth Thousand Years by W. Cleon Skousen. This is a thick book! I would personally class this as the second best book in the series. The Third Thousand Years remains my favorite.

As with his first book, there are many suggestions Skousen makes that really make the reader ponder about the scriptures. Other suggestions he makes do not hold as much weight in my opinion. For example, in the story of David and Bathsheba, Skousen suggests David was trying to hide his sin for Bathsheba's sake. I don't buy that for a second. Any person would have a really hard time convincing me that David wasn't just trying to cover his own tail.

Other parts of this book were extremely rewarding and fascinating. Perhaps one of my favorite parts was the story of Jonah and the whale (Skousen uses good arguments to show it was a whale as Jesus said, and not just a "big fish"). Before going into Jonah's story, the author recounts a true story about a whaler who was swallowed whole by a whale and survived for two days before he was rescued.

I also highly appreciated Skousen's efforts to help the reader keep track of the chronology of the Old Testament. Not only did he help clarify what was happening in both the Kingdom of Judah and the Kingdom of Israel, but he also does his best to help us know when the various prophets conducted their ministries. It was neat for me to learn who was a contemporary with whom.

I have heard differing arguments about Skousen. Some people say that some of his ideas are "out there." While I do not agree with all of his conclusions, I still found this series to be a wonderful enlightening read and it certainly encourages the reader to examine the scriptures more closely. For that reason alone I would recommend reading these books by Skousen.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Unlocking Isaiah in the Book of Mormon

I purchased a copy of Unlocking Isaiah in the Book of Mormon by Victor L. Ludlow while I was taking a class by Brother Ludlow at BYU. I finally read it during this past month as I studied Isaiah (yet again) during my personal scripture study.

The book begins by talking about Isaiah's writing style and the literary devices he uses. An understanding of his style helps the reader better appreciate what Isaiah is trying to say. It also helps to show exactly what Isaiah is trying to emphasize the most.

Then, when Ludlow begins to actually go in depth into the Isaiah sections of the Book of Mormon, he doesn't just give an understanding of Isaiah's message, but he also discusses possibilities as to why Nephi, Jacob, Abinadi, and the Savior would have selected these passages.

I was particularly impressed with the quotation of Isaiah 53 by Abinadi. I have always loved Abinadi's sermon, but Ludlow helped me understand that his sermon was essentially just a quotation and commentary on Isaiah. These passages from Isaiah had such an impact on Alma the priest, that he repented. Should not Isaiah have the same impact on me and all who read it?

It was also neat to read about the chapters quoted by the Savior when He visited the Nephites. One of the purposes of the Book of Mormon is to remind Israel of the covenants of the Lord and that He has not forgotten them. The chapters quoted by the Savior highlight this message of the Book of Mormon and the Savior further comments on these passages to clarify the sign of the fulfillment of these promises.

This book was a great and enlightening read. It is now only available as an ebook, but I still highly recommend it to anyone interested in studying Isaiah, especially the use of his teachings in the Book of Mormon.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Third Thousand Years

The Third Thousand Years is the next installment in the series by W. Cleon Skousen. I personally enjoyed this book a lot more than the first, mostly because there are more historical records that the author was able to draw from as he compiled this book. Even if I do not agree with the author's interpretation of the scriptures in all cases, I do appreciate that because of this book I am now reading the scriptures closer and studying them more.

For example, when talking about the story of Joseph in Egypt, the author states that it was not Joseph's brothers, but rather a group of Midianites who sold him to a caravan of Ishmaelites, who sold him into Egypt. When I read this I thought, "That's not right! His brothers sold him!" So I opened up my scriptures, and sure enough, it says that it was some Midianites who took him out of the pit. Now, maybe the Midianites and the brothers were in it together, but either way, this was something I had never noticed before.

The part that I enjoyed reading the most was all about Moses. Skousen frequently cites Josephus to give additional details to Moses' life. Now, since Josephus is not a scriptural record, perhaps we can't take everything he says for granted, but a lot of what he says matches with certain references in the Bible.

For example, Josephus says that Moses was actually the crowned prince of Egypt. Not just a prince, but the prince who would actually become ruler over all the land someday. Is this true? Perhaps... In Hebrews 11, we learn that Moses rejected the comforts of Egypt's palace of sin in favor of being with God's people.

During Moses' time as crowned prince, Josephus says he fought a battle against Ethiopia and at the end of the battle Moses married an Ethiopian princess. Well, in Numbers we read about Miriam and Aaron ridiculing Moses because of the Ethiopian he married. The scripture does not clarify whether this marriage occurred while they were all in the wilderness or if it occurred many years earlier. The fact that Doctrine and Covenants 132 teaches that Moses had plural wives indicates that this marriage to an Ethiopian probably occurred earlier and that Moses was married to her and to Zipporah at the same time.

I also loved learning more about the Law of Moses. While I am grateful we do not need to live the full extent of this law today, it was fascinating to me to learn how it worked, or rather, how it was supposed to work. As I read more about it and learned more about it, I saw how it really was a schoolmaster to bring the children of Israel to Christ. Although very strict and rigid, the principles it was founded on are the same principles that serve as the foundation of the Gospel and righteous living.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

History of the Church vol. 5

The contents of this volume in the History of the Church include many famous teachings from the prophet Joseph Smith, but also some intriguing stories. I will highlight just a few of the many things I enjoyed from this volume.

This volume begins right away with a crazy story. John C. Bennett was a prominent leader in Nauvoo, but he used his influence to commit some serious sins. When he was discovered, he quickly turned against the Church and became one of Joseph Smith's bitterest enemies. Bennett only found support among the base people of society, and especially from the mobs in Missouri. It is because of him that Joseph frequently had to go into hiding.

Page 107 contains the prophet's classic statement, "undaunted, firm, and unwavering--unchangeable, affectionate Emma!" He declares this as he is making a list of his close friends. The next page contains a statement about Newel K. Whitney, where he talks about the strong bond between them.

The famous quote, "Happiness is the object and design of our existence" comes from page 134.

I was interested in a conversation between Joseph Smith and Willard Richards, when Willard Richards asked him if he wanted a wicked man to pray for him. Joseph replied yes and said, "The prayer of a wicked man may do a righteous man good, when it does the who prays no good."

This quote sounds like something President Gordon B. Hinckley would say: "We don't ask any people to throw away any good they have got; we only ask them to come and get more" (Page 259).

Page 261 gives the prophet's key to understanding parables--and that is to look for the question that drew out the parable. This protects us from making crazy interpretations.

A few times Joseph Smith says that believing false doctrine does not make you a bad person. There are many good people, even in the Church, that believe things that aren't correct. We should not judge a person's character on their beliefs alone.

I also thoroughly enjoyed getting a glimpse of the prophet's humor. In a discourse given on pages 339-346, Joseph Smith made me laugh out loud a couple times. One of my favorite quotes is, "This learned interpretation is all as flat as a pancake! 'What do you use such vulgar expressions for, being a prophet?' Because the old women understand it--they make pancakes." I don't know why, but I found this very funny.

Another funny story is when Joseph was arrested and delivered to the custody of a sheriff from Missouri. the sheriff kept threatening to shoot him, and Joseph bared his chest and said, "Shoot away!"

Last of all, on page 401, the prophet said something really thought-provoking. He said if he was better than anyone else, he would ascend to the highest heaven, but he would be alone. He talks about being a rough stone rolling down from a high mountain, being polished as it rolls.

I am looking forward to reading the next volume, although I am sad as well because I know the next volume contains the prophet's martyrdom. I have enjoyed getting to know the prophet better through reading his history.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Commentary on the Pearl of Great Price

Well, as sad as it may sound, Commentary on the Pearl of Great Price by George Reynolds and Janne M. Sjodahl has got to be the worst book I have read in a long time. As a story book, or fictionalized book, it may have passed off as an okay book. But as a good trying to offer helpful insights into the Pearl of Great Price, it failed miserably.

Let me begin by talking about the good things in this book. Don't worry. This won't take very long. When talking about the Prophet Joseph Smith, the authors respond to the question of why didn't Joseph Smith heal everybody if he really had the priesthood. Their answer is that the ancient apostles didn't heal everybody either, and they cite some examples to prove that point. I thought that was interesting.

They also suggest that although the Garden of Eden was a paradise, Adam and Eve still worked in it, as they were told to take care of the garden. The difference between the pre-fall work and the post-fall work is that the post-fall work included thistles and thorns that made the work harder.

Ok, now time for the bad.

The authors repeatedly elaborate on the stories in the Pearl of Great Price with no scriptural basis whatsoever. They don't just suggest possibilities, they teach their ideas as fact. This drove me nuts! For example, they claim that the angel appeared to Adam to explain sacrifices on a day when he was particularly depressed. The scriptures say nothing about him being depressed, especially on that day. This is just one of numerous examples.

At one point, they argue that the Pearl of Great Price contains "misquoted" words because it doesn't fit with their interpretation of the event. They argue that the words were either transcribed incorrectly or else printed incorrectly. What kind of blasphemy is that?

Later on they quote from an account from John...but this account doesn't exist. Here is the account they claim is "recorded of John." See for yourself if you think this is made up: "It appears that Jesus and His Apostles had been on a tour of preaching the Gospel throughout the land of Jerusalem. As they neared the end of their journey, they, because of the rigors of foot-travel, became weary; they were almost exhausted and sought much needed rest. In a nearby field they laid themselves upon the ground, and John, whom Christ loved, put his head upon the Savior's breast and slept."

Yeah, that's not in the Bible anywhere. But then again, neither is Isaiah chapter 85, which the authors quote at one point.

The research is shoddy, the explanations little more than fantasy, and very little commentary on the actual doctrines. This book reminded me of Elder Bruce R. McConkie's counsel to avoid drinking from the muddy stream, but to instead go straight to the source. This book is not staying in my library.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The First 2,000 Years

I have been interested in reading The First 2,000 Years by W. Cleon Skousen for some time now, and that time finally arrived! Some parts of it I found very enjoyable. Some parts I found myself being a little skeptical. But overall, it was a good read and it is definitely thought-provoking. Perhaps everything didn't happen the exact way that Skousen explains it, but it does provide an interesting viewpoint to consider.

However, instead of dwelling on the things I didn't like so much, I want to share some ideas from this book that I enjoyed. I may not agree 100% with these ideas, but I enjoyed them so much because they were new thoughts to me and made me ponder.

Early in the book Skousen talks about the relationship between priesthood and motherhood. He argues that the priesthood is meant to put men on equal footing with women. As mothers, they naturally have more influence on their children than anyone else. This gives women a lot of power in the world. The priesthood gives authority to the men, which allows men and women to then work, equal in authority, to raise their children. I have heard many theories on the priesthood, but this was a new explanation to me.

At another place in the book, Skousen discusses why the Jaredites were commanded to take so many animals with them on their journey to the promised land. Skousen suggests that after the flood, there was no life to be found anywhere in the Americas. The Jaredites were commanded to replenish the life of both animals and humans. While I had never considered this before and it does make sense, I also think that some animals could have migrated to the Americas before the earth was divided in the days of Peleg.

One of my favorite things about this book was how Skousen outlined the lives of the patriarchs. It was so interesting to me to see how many of them overlapped. In fact, Adam and Seth both lived to see the city of Zion built by Enoch before they passed away. When Zion was translated, Methuselah wasn't left on the earth alone. He still had his grandfathers living on the earth. Interestingly enough, Methuselah lived until the year of the great Flood. I had never realized before how much their lives overlapped.

I am excited to read the next volume!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Young Men Mutual Activities

I received a copy of Young Men Mutual Activities by Blair & Tristan Tolman when I was 16. Blair Tolman was my seminary teacher and I won this and one other book for being the first student to memorize all 25 Book of Mormon scripture mastery. I had flipped through the book before, reading an idea here or there, but I actually read the whole thing cover to cover this last week.

As the title suggests, the book is full of ideas for activities with the Young Men. The last chapter even includes ideas for Young Men and Young Women to do together for combined mutual nights. A really neat feature of this book is that if a particular activity will help fulfill a merit badge, the authors always make mention of that.

Many of the activities are practical ideas that will lead to growth and development in the young men. Others are just plain fun activities. One of my favorite suggestions was to play Gospel Family Fued, where the leaders poll various members of the ward and the young men have to guess the top survey results (for example, name an animal in the Book of Mormon).

This book was published in 1998, and so some of the activities are a little outdated. For example, young men can no longer visit an airport and practice finding different gates, etc. Also, the widespread use of the internet and cell phones takes away the challenge from other activities, such as a trivia scavenger hunt. Instead of being able to find people who actually know the answer to the trivia questions, anybody could just look up the answers on the internet, thereby defeating the purpose of the activity (although I did like that a suggested trivia question had to do with Disneyland).

Even though a revised edition may be in order, I still think this book would be a great springboard for new ideas.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Journey Beyond Life Vol.1

I just finished reading Journey Beyond Life by Michelle R. Sorensen and Dr. David R. Willmore. This book is now out of print, which is sad because it was a good book. I inherited the copy that belonged to my Grandpa Wanlass. After he passed away, it was found on his desk, bookmarked with one of his business cards. It was possibly the last book he had been reading. I found his business card still inside when I began reading the book.

Many of the stories I read in this book are also found in Life Everlasting. However, there were a few things that stood out to me that I feel are worth sharing here.

On page 89 there is a story of one woman's near-death experience. They do not say who this woman is or where they got their information. However, at the beginning of the book the authors state that some people they spoke with asked to remain anonymous, so this is apparently one of those people. Anyway, she talks about her life passing before her eyes in such a way that she can perceive every choice she made and how she could somehow sense the Lord's approval or disapproval of each instance. She also talks about seeing angels escorting her spirit to her birth when her life began. I love that concept of being escorted by angels to mortality.

Another neat story that I enjoyed comes from Brother LeSueur. His brother Frank had been unexpectedly killed by some outlaws. One night he passed into the world of spirits, and among his many experiences, he had the privilege of seeing his brother teaching a group of spirits. A beautiful woman was standing by him, and Brother LeSueur learned she was to be his wife. Shortly after this experience, and after returning to mortality, a woman came visit him and told him that as her daughter was dying, she said she was to be married to Frank. When she showed Brother LeSueur a picture of her, he immediately recognized her as the woman standing next to his brother. Accordingly, they did temple work for them and had them sealed.

Experiences beyond the veil are always interesting to read about. They vary so widely that it is sometimes difficult to understand how things really are there. The authors of this book were careful not to teach anything as doctrine, although where they had supporting statements from general authorities, they used them. To me, the most important thing to come away with from these stories is not a "newly discovered doctrine or theory", but rather an understanding of the importance of things of eternity. These stories serve as a reminder that we can be called at any time, and we must be ready. If we are, a beautiful place called Paradise awaits us.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Sisters Grimm

I have had The Sisters Grimm by Matthew Buckley sitting on my shelf for a while now. The other night I was in the mood for some fiction, so I picked this one up and read most of it before going to bed. I didn't realize it at the time, but it is apparently the first book in a series of nine.

As I have said before, it is always difficult to review a fictional work, because I do not want to give away part of the plot. Basically, the story is about two sisters, Sabrina and Daphne Grimm, who go to live with their grandmother in Ferryport Landing. Their grandmother is a little eccentric (and Sabrina isn't even convinced she's their real grandmother). As events unfold, they realize they are part of an amazing legacy that has a very close connection to what the girls always believed were fairy tales. A connection that, at times, may seem a little too close for comfort.

The story was engaging (remember, I read most of it in one night), but I wasn't jumping into my car to go buy the next book when I finished. If I had the next book, I certainly wouldn't mind reading it, but this book didn't pull me in enough to actively seek out and finish the rest of the series.

On a personal note, I found the book both inspiring and discouraging when it comes to my own writing. I am working on a fairy tale book of my own. I was disappointed to see that some of my ideas had already been used in this book. But maybe that just means they really are good ideas, right?

Overall, this was an entertaining read. My mom would call something like this "brain candy."

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

History of the Church Vol. 4

So far, Volume 4 of History of the Church might be my favorite volume. This might be because it begins the Nauvoo period, and I have a special place in my heart for Nauvoo. But there are many other things I enjoyed. I want to share some of them.

On page 120, Brigham Young writes to Joseph Smith. I was touched by the end of his letter: "I request one favor of you, that is, a letter from you, that I may hear from my friends. I trust that I will remain your friend through life and eternity." I thought this was really neat, and gives some insight into the brotherhood that existed between these two men.

On page 264, Brigham Young explains how the scriptures could be interpreted that the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart. The Lord testified to Pharaoh so clearly through the signs and wonders, that Pharaoh had two choices: repent, or harden his heart. Because the Lord only left him two choices, it was interpreted that the Lord hardened his heart.

On page 335, Parley P. Pratt has a small humorous poem. They had met together for a conference, and someone brought a cake that lifted their spirits. Parley concludes his poem with: "When sinking in sorrow/Fresh courage we'll take/As we think of our friends/And remember the cake." This made me chuckle.

On page 445, Joseph Smith explains that charity covers sins. Those who do not accuse others of sins will actually have their own forgiven. This is similar to the Savior's teaching that "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."

Another neat thing about this volume was the dedicatory prayer of Elder Orson Hyde in Jerusalem. I enjoyed reading all about his mission to the Holy Land.

Page 461 included the famous quote about the Book of Mormon being the keystone of our religion.

Page 475 talks about tithing. The Lord expects us to pay tithing on what we currently have, rather than speculate what we might have, or hold off because we might be able to pay more in the future.

This volume also included the famous Wentworth Letter, as well as the founding of the Relief Society.

I was really touched by a short discourse by the prophet where he explained why some infants pass away. On page 553 Joseph Smith says, "The Lord takes many away, even in infancy, that they may escape the envy of man, and the sorrows and evils of this present world. They were too pure, too lovely, to live on earth." What a profound and comforting statement!

Last of all, I enjoyed the many discourses in this book regarding baptisms for the dead. During on discourse, on page 596, Joseph Smith said (quoting 1 Peter 3:19-20): "Here then we have an account of our Savior preaching to the spirits in prison, to spirits that had been imprisoned from the days of Noah. And what did He preach to them? That they were to stay there? Certainly not!" While I found this statement funny, it also struck me how the prophet was able to lay everything out in plain light that it might easily be discerned.

I am looking forward to continuing this series.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Living the Book of Mormon: Abiding by its Precepts

Living the Book of Mormon: Abiding by its Precepts was the topic for the 36th Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium. I was excited to read this book, because I think too often we think the Book of Mormon itself will get us nearer to God than any other book, but that is not true. It is by "abiding by its precepts" that we achieve such a conquest. I will share some of my favorite highlights from this book.

Robert L. Millet talks about the Book of Mormon being called "the most correct book" and quotes extensively from Elder Holland. I love Elder Holland, and Millet selected some choice quotations to talk about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. He emphasizes that Joseph Smith is either a prophet, or a liar. There is no middle ground. But to suppose that a farm boy could have created the Book of Mormon is an absolute ridiculous idea.

Michael A. Goodman discusses the history of Laman and Lemuel, and their fatal flaw of pride. He talks about the lessons we can learn from them. If we read their story carefully, they humbled themselves many times and worshiped the Lord. Because we can see that they did not start out all bad, we can also see how to avoid making the same mistakes they did and heading down the same path.

Daniel L. Belnap wrote an exquisite essay on separation vs. reconciliation and talks about how these themes are taught throughout the Book of Mormon. Jacob and Moroni especially focus on these themes, because they are separated from their brethren and the promised lands of inheritance. And yet both find comfort and joy in the reconciliation through Jesus Christ. I was very impressed with this topic, and I think it is worth reading again and again.

Terry B. Ball talks about Alma 5, and how we can use it as a tool to help us reach out to the less-active, for that is essentially what Alma is doing in this chapter. Ball clearly points out Alma's methods of building trust, establishing relationships, reminding them of the joy of the Gospel, and helping them use their agency to organize their lives once again according to the Gospel. I thought this essay was very well written.

C. Robert Line discusses missionary work as found in the Book of Mormon. He quotes Elder Richard G. Scott, talking about the importance of discovering the principles taught in the Book of Mormon, and separating these out from the stories we read. I also loved the quote he shares from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland where he says that asking every member to be a missionary is not as crucial as asking every member to be a member. There is great power in a good example!

Finally, I was very impressed by Michael L. King's discourse on the atonement of Jesus Christ. I could really feel the Spirit bearing witness of the power and reality of the atonement as I read this essay. My favorite part is where King states that the atonement is not only infinite, but it is also intimate. How true this is!

This book was fantastic, and it makes me more eager to comb through the Book of Mormon to understand its precepts better, and most of all to live them that I may draw closer to God.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Great Are the Words of Isaiah

I just finished reading Great Are the Words of Isaiah by Monte S. Nyman. This is the second commentary on Isaiah that I have read this year, and I really loved this version. My favorite thing about it is that it wasn't broken up into individual chapters. Rather, it was divided by themes. The author tried his past to group the chapters together the way that Isaiah likely originally had them grouped.

Furthermore, in addition to a few personal interpretations (although the author was usually really good about admitting guesswork), Nyman provides commentary from the other Standard Works, as well as the writings of church leaders to clarify passages in Isaiah. I was amazed at how much Isaiah was quoted in the New Testament by Paul, and even more amazed at how much commentary and clarification exists in the Doctrine and Covenants. Elder Orson Pratt also gives many clarifying statements to help us understand and apply Isaiah.

The appendix was also very interesting. The author lists every scripture in Isaiah that is quoted or paraphrased anywhere else in scripture. The author then shows how much variation exists from Isaiah in our current Bible verses the other places where the same passages are used. I loved the comparisons and how much they enlightened the passages for me.

I honestly don't know if this book is in print or not, but if you are looking for a great commentary on Isaiah, I highly recommend this book.

Monday, July 22, 2013

How the New Testament Came to Be

I loved reading the works from the 35th annual Brigham Young University Sperry Symposium, titled How the New Testament Came to Be. I love history, and this book was full of it. I have never really known anything about the first centuries A.D., but because of some books I have read recently, I am becoming very familiar with the names of the Apostolic Fathers. I also learned more about the history of record keeping among the ancient Jews and early Christians.

Kerry Muhlestein dedicates an entire essay to the evolution of writing, particularly how it influenced sacred record keeping. I especially enjoyed reading about the first books that came to be, called codices. A codex originally usually consisted of wax tablets in between two boards. A writer would basically take notes on these tablets, then write the full-length document on a scroll. He could then "erase" what was written on the wax and re-use it. Eventually they started including parchment, where they could write on both sides of the paper, forming something similar to our modern-day books.

Carl W. Griffin and Frank F. Judd Jr. wrote about the principles of textual criticism. In this essay they discuss the difficulty of finding original biblical quotes due to scribes adding "clarifying" statements, and also due to scribes deleting parts that they didn't feel were correct. They emphasize that we believe the Bible, not only as it is translated correctly, but also as it is transmitted correctly.

Gaye Strathearn talks about the book of Matthew. Of the many interesting things mentioned, I really liked the idea of thinking of the Gospel writers the same way we think of the Book of Mormon. Why did Matthew choose to include the things he did? Of all the things the Savior did and taught, why did Matthew choose to include only the instances we now have recorded? Thinking of the Bible this way puts it in an entirely different light for me.

Finally, I really enjoyed the essays by both Eric D. Huntsman and Lincoln H. Blumell. They talked about scribes and how scribes were used in the first century AD. I especially enjoyed reading about how Paul's epistles both conform and differentiate from generic epistles of that time period. In Paul's epistles, we get clues about the use of different scribes, which would explain the different language used in the various epistles which are all attributed to Paul.

Reading this book shed a lot of light on how we have received the New Testament. I am grateful for those early Christians who preserved the words of Christ and His apostles. Although it has not been passed down in its purity, I feel a great debt of gratitude to those who did all they could to give us the knowledge we have today of the earthly ministry of the Savior Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Gospel of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament

My first experience reading a book from the Sidney B. Sperry Symposium was reading The Gospel of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament. This was the topic of the 38th Sperry Symposium. The main idea of this topic is that, although the Old Testament is not the most explicit source to understand the Gospel, we can find all of its elements embedded in its pages (often through stories). I will highlight a few of my favorite points.

Michael A. Goodman points out in his essay that we learn about eternal marriage from the first pages of the Old Testament. When Adam and Eve were married in the Garden of Eden, there was no death at that time. Therefore, when marriage was first introduced into the world, there was no indication that it should have an end. It was intended to exist as long as Adam and Eve in their immortal state.

Paul Y. Hoskisson discusses how we can find the Plan of Salvation taught in the Old Testament. For example, Jacob's family leaves the Promised Land (the Celestial Kingdom) to journey to Egypt (the world). Eventually they leave the world, and through Moses (a savior) they are eventually able to return to the Promised Land (the Celestial Kingdom). The many details in this story teach us about God' plan.

Jared T. Parker has an essay on covenant cutting, citing examples in the Old Testament where something was literally cut and divided, and the person making the covenant would pass between the divided parts. Such was the custom in many kingdoms surrounding Israel, and we have some O.T. accounts of the Lord cutting covenants with His people. A cool connection he made was that at the Second Coming, the Savior will return and divide the Mount of Olives, and He will stand in the midst of it to save the Jews. Could this also be an example of covenant cutting? It is a neat idea.

The last essay I want to touch on was by Kerry Muhlestein (who I had as a professor at BYU). He talks about the story of Ruth, how it connects to redemption and Christ. However, what I thought was the neatest was the ancient principles of welfare that God established among his people. Those with lands were to leave some stalks untouched, and were not to take anything that fell to the ground. The poor who were willing to do some work, were allowed to collect what was not used. I thought this was neat.

I have a few more books from the Sperry Symposiums. I look forward to learning more!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Early Christians in Disarray

Whenever you read a collection of essays, you are bound to enjoy some more than others. I found this to be the case as I read Early Christians in Disarray, edited by Noel B. Reynolds. This book is a collection of essays, published by FARMS, that deal with the Great Apostasy. The main argument of this book is that the Great Apostasy did not begin with the Council of Nicea, but was already well under way while the apostles were still alive.

James E. Faulconer's essay was very interesting to me. He talked about what the word "apostasy" actually means, and how it is used in the New Testament. For example, when Paul talks about a "falling away", the original Greek actually says there will be a rebellion. The author then talks about how such a rebellion is evident.

John Gee's essay on the corruption of scripture was also highly informative. Although no scriptural texts exists earlier than the second century, this author supplies writings of different church leaders, wherein they accuse other people of changing the writings of the apostles. These accusations states that various factions were changing the writings to correspond more closely with their teachings. There is also some evidence that Jewish leaders were changing the Old Testament to remove certain evidences of Christianity.

Daniel W. Graham and James L. Siebach both give a history of philosophy's introduction to the Church. Without revelation, the early Christians needed something to establish a somewhat firmer foundation, and they found that in the philosophical teachings of the Greeks. This was not an immediate marriage of beliefs, but actually took a few centuries to be settled.

Last of all, David L. Paulsen's essay on the early Christian understanding of God was extremely interesting. He gave firm proof that the early Christians and Jews believed in an embodied God. This belief was attacked by Greek philosophy until it eventually was established at the Council of Nicea that the official doctrine should be that God is not embodied. But even with this established creed, the dominating church struggled for many more years to stamp out the belief in an embodied God.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Its appendix was also a helpful resource in understanding more about the subject. Since the Church is always only one generation away from apostasy, it is important to see how it came about in the early days so that we can know how to prevent it in our personal lives today.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Far World: Air Keep

Far World: Air Keep, the third volume in the series by J. Scott Savage was a long time coming. Far World, Fablehaven, and 13 Reality are three series that were published by Shadow Mountain that all originally came out around the same time. Of all the Shadow Mountain series, Far World was my favorite. I was very sad when the third book was indefinitely delayed. Finally it was released, and it did not disappoint!

I was extremely nervous almost right away when I learned this book was going to deal with time travel. In all my readings, I have only been satisfied with one author's use of time travel (J. K. Rowling's in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban). Fortunately, Savage does an excellent job with time travel in his book, making it the second book to satisfy me as far as time travel goes.

I don't want to say a lot about the content of the book. A fictional book is hard to review because you don't want to spoil anything. All that I will say is that the characters are just as engaging as ever. Savage really makes you care about the characters in these books. The world he created is extraordinary, and I love the cultures and rules he has imagined. Far World really seems like a real place.

I was also impressed that the author began this book with a brief synopsis of the first two books in the series. This was extremely helpful, especially because it has been so long since the last book came out. I thought that was very considerate of the author. This book is really enjoyable and I highly encourage any fantasy-lover to read the Far World series. I can hardly wait for the next book!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Regional Studies in LDS Church History: California

I acquired a copy of Regional Studies in LDS Church History: California (published by Brigham Young University) mainly because I used to live in California. For the most part, I really enjoyed this collection of essays. I learned a lot of neat facts that I didn't know before, and I also got to read multiple stories that were often entertaining and always informative.

One of the most interesting stories contained in this volume is Donald Q. Cannon's essay on Sam Brannan. I had heard the name before and I knew that he didn't listen to the counsel of Brigham Young, but that was just the beginning. He also went on to become California's first millionaire. He abandoned the Church completely succumbed to his demons of alcohol and adultery. He eventually died penniless and alone. His story is a tragic one, but also really makes you focus on what is most important.

I really enjoyed the essays that discussed the Mormon Battalion. I knew about the circumstances under which the Battalion was called, I knew about their march, and I knew they didn't have to engage in combat. However, I had no idea just how many challenges they endured on their march. I loved reading about their march and learning more about the historic group to which my ancestor Ruel Barrus belonged.

I loved essays that talked about the experiences of certain general authorities in California, and I was very intrigued by the account of members living in San Francisco who endured the terrible earthquake and the fires that followed. But perhaps one of my most favorite essays was Jeremiah K. Clark's on the San Diego temple. Since that is where I was married, I had a particular interest in that temple's history.

The research done by the authors was very thorough. I learned that this is just the first of several volumes of regional church history published by BYU. I would be interested in reading the research they did in their other works.

Friday, June 21, 2013

History of the Church Vol. 3

The third volume of the History of the Church by Joseph Smith was certainly the most depressing. This volume contains the entire history of the Missouri period of Church History. While none of the stories were necessarily new to me, the detail and perspectives of the persecuted were incredible. It is difficult to understand how the mobs could have been so inhumane and ruthless. Towards the end of the book, Joseph Smith very clearly states that no single religious or political party was responsible for the atrocities that occurred, but all seemed to be united against the "Mormons".

I like reading the commentary by  B.H. Roberts because he adds commentaries in the footnotes that often expound on something by quoting from another individual, or else he offers insight on events that transpired after the history was written. He actually begins this volume talking about a prophecy Joseph Smith told Alexander Doniphan (who did his best to help the Church during the Missouri period). A man offered to pay Doniphan in property in Jackson County, and Joseph encouraged him not to accept it, because it would be destroyed. B. H. Roberts then gives an account of the destruction that Missouri suffered during the Civil War. Ironically, many of the things they either accused the saints of, or things they did against the saints happened to them.

It was ridiculous to read about the "legal processes" surrounding the arrest of church leaders. They were arrested by an army and were going to be court marshaled and sentenced to death, except they weren't part of a military, so they couldn't legally be court marshaled. So the general researched the entire military law, trying to find some excuse to kill them. Being unsuccessful, he turned them over to the civil judges to try them. The judges were just as corrupt, and whenever the leaders tried to produce a witness, the witnesses were either arrested, beaten, or driven from the state. Finally, realizing they had no real case against the prisoners, they were eventually released and actually aided by their captors.

I had heard about Joseph rebuking the guards for their foul language, and I had heard about what evil acts the mob committed against the "Mormons", but not until I read this did I realize the extent of how horrible the mob was. After reading about the horrible things they did, I can't believe they were only rebuked once!

However, amidst all this darkness, it was really neat to read about those who remained faithful. So many abandoned the Church at this time, and many of those turned against it with the black heart of a traitor. But many, many others remained true and steadfast. These people risked their lives multiple times, and were only preserved by the hand of God. They are an inspiration to me. I can see how the Missouri trials truly purified the Church at that time. Many of the tares were removed from the crop, and many among the Lord's wheat were gathered to Him and preserved. In my own trials in life, which can never compare with what these people had to suffer, I hope I can always prove myself steadfast and immovable, just like the heroes of this period of Church History.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Making Sense of Isaiah

I received the book Making Sense of Isaiah by Terry Ball and Nathan Winn as a prize for answering a question correctly at a work meeting. I finally decided to use it in my most recent study of Isaiah.

Each chapter is divided into three sections: First it gives a summary of the content in that chapter, Second it helps the reader liken the chapter unto him/herself, and Finally, it gives the reader some questions to ponder to further help them liken the scriptures to themselves, but requiring a great effort on the part of the reader.

While the organization for the book was appealing, I didn't find it too helpful in understanding Isaiah. Usually the authors would focus on just a select phrase or set of verses, isolate them from the rest of the chapter, and ignore the other material. While the connections were usually neat and interesting, sometimes I felt like they were too much of a stretch.

Overall, I would say that this is a good book if you want to understand basic concepts and principles taught by Isaiah, but if you want in-depth exploration, you're going to want to try something different. This is my second book on Isaiah that I have read, and I have a couple more on my shelf that I hope to still read this year. In the meantime, I'm taking a break from this profound prophet and focusing on other scripture topics.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Since Cumorah

I have very conflicting emotions about Since Cumorah by Hugh Nibley. Some of his arguments were very interesting, and he began the book by making a great case for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. For example, he talks a lot about the Dead Sea Scrolls and how they have changed the world's perspective on scripture. This new perspective falls perfectly in line with the Book of Mormon and its teachings.

Nibley goes on to describe names that have been discovered in the Middle East that are not mentioned anywhere in the Bible, but have very close counterparts in the Book of Mormon. Following a lot of the external evidence, he then spends a lot of time on the internal evidence of the Book of Mormon, showing how the writing style is not typical of 19th century literature, and also commands a knowledge that would be totally unavailable to an obscure farm boy such as Joseph Smith.

My biggest problem with this book is how Nibley doesn't get his facts right when talking about the Book of Mormon itself. For example, he spends an entire chapter talking about the military history of the Book of Mormon, but repeatedly says it is Moroni, the son of Mormon who is abridging it. This is completely false! Moroni didn't touch the plates as far as writing the history goes until Mormon chapter 8, after his father dies. (Ironically, Nibley later states that Mormon is the one speaking in Mormon 8). At first I thought it was just a mistake when the author uses "Moroni" instead of "Mormon", but then he adds clarification, such as: "Moroni the Younger," "Moroni, son of Mormon," etc. I checked the latest edition of this book, and this problem still has not been fixed.

He also gets some of the history of the Book of Mormon. At one point he talks about a Lamanite King who makes a law to provide for widows and orphans affected by war. The scripture reference he uses is actually referring to King Limhi--a NEPHITE king.

If he cannot get his facts right about the Book of Mormon itself, how can I, as a reader, trust anything else he says about the Dead Sea Scrolls or research done in far away countries and foreign languages? At the beginning of this book, I was a captive reader with an open mind. But after finding so many discrepancies that should have been simple to avoid, I am not sure I can trust the research he has done on everything else. It left a sour taste regarding his book in general.

Friday, May 31, 2013

History of the Church Vol. 2

I really enjoyed the second volume of History of the Church by Joseph Smith. I love how candid he is, quick to confess his own faults, but also quick to defend the truth. I want to highlight some of my favorite parts of this volume.

At one point, the prophet was traveling with a group of the church's leaders and they came across a man on the road who claimed to be sick and asked for a ride. Joseph says they were "checked by the Spirit" and so refused. Soon they learned this man was part of a mob and others were waiting to ambush them when they stopped to help him.

A lot happened during Zion's Camp. At one point Joseph said he was feeling depressed in spirit and said there had been a lot of bloodshed in the place they were. He said a righteous man will always feel this way where there has been a lot of bloodshed. Forty rods later they came across a large mound containing human bones, confirming what Joseph had said. Also, throughout that journey, Joseph gave some excellent teachings. Some included the sanctity of animal life. Joseph refused any animal to be killed for no reason. If it was killed, it was to be eaten.

Later, after the Twelve Apostles were called, Joseph charged them to write all their revelations and proceedings of their meetings, teaching that much valuable information had already been lost because many in the Church were negligent to take notes at meetings.

One of the greatest treats was reading a blessing the prophet bestowed on Newel K. Whitney. I loved reading this because I have married into his family and now my daughter Symphony takes part in the blessings where Joseph promised his seed "all good things of the earth" and that "Angels will guard the lives of his posterity."

This volume contained the dedication of the Kirtland temple, and it was powerful to see how anxious Joseph was to prepare the people to receive their endowment. He placed the highest priority on getting them ready and helping them understand the importance of it.

Joseph also gives a lot of insight into his personal life. He frequently talks about the fine weather for sleighing, and also how much he enjoyed spending time with his family. He talks about attending to his "domestic concerns." I enjoyed that.

Finally, I was really surprised when I read about the Church's stance on abolition. I guess I always just assumed that the Church was in favor of abolition. But apparently at this time period, abolitionists were seen as extremists and disturbers of the peace. While against slavery, the Church did not declare itself to be aligned with the abolitionists. Joseph actually wrote a letter to express his views on the matter. What he did not support was the rebellion of slaves, leading them to kill their masters. Joseph recommended that it was those in the South who needed to recognize the evil of slavery, because they would be able to best offer the remedy. This really intrigued me. I already knew that slavery was such a tender issue at this time, but Joseph's letter really shows that.